Monday, February 25, 2013

Nigella Lawson: A Very Personal Story

My life -- more specifically my life as a writer -- was changed for the better this week. I attribute this phenomenon, in large part, to an opportunity I was granted through my freelancing for

Nigella Lawson made a visit to Milwaukee on Thursday to promote her new book, "Nigellissima." Thanks to a serendipitous email on the part of my editor, I was able to meet with her for a face-to-face interview. Our time together was brief, just longer than half an hour, but within that time I experienced what I can only call an epiphany.

I'll confess that I'm not always all that excited about interviewing celebrities, not because they're ever really unpleasant, but moreso because most interviews end up feeling oddly cold -- more like a business transaction than a conversation between two warm-blooded, living human beings. But, my conversation with Nigella was... very different.

Yes, I took the obligatory "fan shot" (which, in retrospect, feels a bit cheap and silly). And I did get her to sign a book for me. But, still. There was something quite unique about our interaction. And I can't get it out of my head.
Before I delve more deeply into my experience, I should probably explain that I'm very rarely "star struck." I don't know why. I just don't get excited about these sorts of things. Even the knowledge that I would be meeting THE Nigella Lawson "in the flesh" didn't really have what might be described as "the usual" effect on me.

Now, that isn't to say I don't have an interest. I've been following Nigella for a good many years. While I missed out on most of her career as a British journalist, I did follow her columns in "Vogue" magazine, as well as her work in "Bon Appetit" and "Gourmet." Ever impressed by her personal connections to food, and her uncanny ability to connect with the reader through her experiences, I was a shoe-in to purchase her very first book, "How to Eat," when it was published in the States.

Although I was interviewing her with regard to her newest book, I felt compelled to bring my copy of that first tome with me to our interview. In fact, I introduced the interview with a very sincere thank you to her for writing a book that so clearly communicated her love for food, and which -- more importantly -- did so in such a personal way.

While I expected a cordial response to my --possibly sappy-- introduction, what I received was far beyond anything I could have envisioned.
"Thank you," she responded with the most heartfelt of smiles. "I put my heart and soul into everything, but this is absolutely everything I believe. This is my first-born and it has a special place in my heart -- also because, in a way, it was an odd book for me to write, having not hitherto been a food writer. And also because -- how strange that I was allowed to write this … that is a work that's not exactly a cookbook, not exactly a piece of food writing, but something in between. I tried to talk about food in my life personally, and where I feel it fits in generally. I find that most people who like reading, and who like food, respond to it. If I’m at a book signing, and people come back and bring that to me, I immediately feel there’s a very strong connection and rapport, because it’s kind of soul to soul."
Her response was believable -- not only because she said those words, but because the remainder of our interview had such a personal tone to it.

We sat openly in the lobby of the hotel -- quite within view of everyone who happened to take a stroll in or out. Her demeanor was very much without pretense, and our interactions were far less "professional" than I expected. In fact, our entire interaction felt very much like the reintroduction of two estranged friends, who simply needed a bit of a warm-up to return to their former intimacy.

Certainly, she answered my questions. But, she opened herself up to the dialog in a way I've not really seen in most interactions I've had with celebrity. She shared the story of the creation of the book -- which took place in the wake of her late husband's cancer diagnosis. She mused on the relationship of her work to feminism, and her perspectives on the authenticity of ethnic cuisines. She shared some of her favorite cookbooks, including detailed explanations of why she enjoys each one -- and where I could get copies of the most beloved, if I was interested.

And, although her schedule was tight, and my interview time had gone over by at least ten minutes, Nigella remained a few moments more to chat with me about a brownie recipe of hers that I've been making and enjoying for quite a few years now.

Peef would later describe our conversation on Twitter:
And yet, it wasn't so far from the truth. In fact, when we were done talking, she gave me a great big hug.

Was I speechless? Oddly, no.
But, was I moved? Absolutely.

In fact, I spent the remainder of the day basking in a very surreal feeling -- the sensation, I suppose, of having truly connected with someone whose love for what she is doing far surpasses the notoriety she enjoys in doing it. And that... well, it changed me in a way I could never have envisioned.

Thank you, Nigella.

Everyday Brownies - Nigella Lawson

NOTE: I'll be postinga link the interview over on Facebook when it goes life on Wednesday, February 27th... in case you're interested.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Moussaka Macaroni and Cheese

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We’re big fans of Greek food, a cuisine drawing from the influences of both the ancients and the Ottoman empire.

Mediterranean fare is generally fresh and healthful, and makes liberal use of seasonal vegetables, seafood and olives. But, when we’re in the mood for an indulgence, we always find ourselves reaching for the creamy richness of moussaka.

Perhaps the most widely recognized of all Greek dishes, moussaka is a casserole made by layering eggplant with a spiced meat filling, then topping it off with a creamy béchamel sauce that is baked to golden perfection.

This mac n’ cheese mimics the flavors of the classic dish by layering cheesy pasta with a sauce made from ground lamb, diced eggplant, and fragrant spices. A creamy béchamel unites the layers and enhances the richness of the dish.

We use Wisconsin Fontina in place of the less common Kefalograviera for its creaminess and flavor, along with Wisconsin cow’s milk Feta, which pulls in the briny, tangy notes commonly found in traditional Mediterranean fare.

Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients. This dish comes together fairly quickly, and offers you the opportunity to enjoy a glass or two of Greek Ouzo while it’s baking. The eggplant lamb mixture can be made a day ahead to save time.

Moussaka Macaroni & Cheese
Check out this recipe, and a host of other delicious takes on macaroni and cheese over at 30 Days and 30 Ways with Macaroni & Cheese.  And don't forget to enter their Mac & Cheese Please! giveaway to win a copy of Laura Werlin's awesome mac & cheese book. -- enter before March 1st!


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Waffle Brownie Sundaes

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We are big fans of brownies. We especially love deep dark fudgey brownies that are crisp and sugary on the outside and sqwoodgy and chocolatey in the middle.

Peef likes his brownies served up with a scoop of ice cream.  I love mine straight up, still warm from the oven, with a nice cold glass of milk.

Unfortunately, we never seem to think about making up a batch until a craving hits (at, say, 8pm on a weeknight) -- which often means it's too late to act upon the impulse.

Luckily, we think we may have found a palatable solution.

Don't laugh, but you can make a pretty good "brownie" in the waffle iron.  Yup. We've done it.

It took us a few tries, but we finally hit upon a recipe that gives you just enough chocolate flavor without gunking up your waffle iron.

All it takes is a bit of cocoa powder, some espresso powder to boost the chocolate flavor, and a few mini chocolate chips to bolster the chocolate quotient and give you a little bit of melty chocolate on the inside of the waffle.

These unique brownies take just minutes to prepare in your waffle iron, and they’re perfect served up fresh and warm with a dollop of ice cream and any number of your favorite sundae toppings.

They're not exactly the fudgey brownies of our dreams, but they TOTALLY work in a pinch (especially when you cover them with hot fudge sauce). And they're pretty perfect for a last minute Valentine's Day dessert.

Serve warm with love.
Waffle Brownie Sundaes


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Savory Bacon & Cheese Breakfast Bread

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Patisseries in France have been making savory egg breads for ages, offering them up to eager patrons to take with them on weekend picnics on the countryside.

I don't know about you -- and maybe it's my winter doldrums talking -- but I love the idea of packing up a chunk of savory quick bread, some fruit, a book, and a bottle of wine and heading off to the park for an afternoon of lazing about.

But, since a field trip to the park isn't exactly practical for Wisconsin in February, the next best thing is to make this bread and serve it up as a no-fuss breakfast.

You might have to give up the green grass and the warm sun for a cup of hot coffee and a seat on the couch, but you'll enjoy the flavors in this bread just as much.

Eggs give this bread a rich yellow color, while sweet red peppers , smoky bacon, and Cheddar cheese give it all the flavors of a delicious breakfast omelet.

It’s perfect for breakfast, brunch, or as a hearty afternoon snack. Bake it up in muffin tins for individual breads that make the perfect take-along breakfast for busy mornings.

Savory Bacon & Cheese Breakfast Bread
Note: This recipe can be easily doubled.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Power Entertaining: A Few More Tips from Eddie Osterland

Pin It I'll admit it.  I don't get star-struck easily. In fact, I'm pretty uninterested in celebrity. What that means is that when I do interviews with people like Eddie Osterland, I don't always expect much.

Of course, in Osterland's case, I should have known better. This guy really knows his stuff. Even better than that, although he has tasted some of the best wines in the world, and could probably recite oenophilic facts until the cows come home, he's down to earth and genuine.

So, I did a preliminary read-through of his book, "Power Entertaining," which he generously gave me a copy of when we met.

I have to be honest and say I didn't expect to be so interested in the material he was presenting. For one, it seemed as if he was pointing his advice primarily at business people and CEO's. And, frankly, I'm just a gal who loves food, wine and entertaining.

But, Eddie is really just a guy who loves food, wine, and entertaining too. He's just capitalizing on that knowledge to give people an edge in a marketplace that doesn't necessarily automatically think to use those assets to win friends and influence people.

And he does a really great job of it. The book contains an entire chapter dedicated to getting you up to snuff on the wines that will make or break your next dinner party. It has wine tasting tips. And a list of the best wines for home entertaining under $40. And it's filled with side-by-side pairing suggestions that will assist you in actually tasting the differences between key wines -- like French Burgundy versus California Pinot Noir, and Washington Merlot versus Washington Cabernet.

Here are just a few of the tips I gleaned from a few minutes with the book:
  • Create a POWER COUPLE, a perfect food and wine pairing for your dinner: In charge of choosing the wine for your table or party? 
One of the easiest ways to make a wine and food seem like they have a natural affinity for one another is to use "mirroring" when you pair. Mirroring involves pairing two similar characteristics together to bring out that shared characteristic. If you have a peppery dish and want to emphasize the spicy pepper flavors, then pick a wine that has peppery characteristics like a Zinfandel. If you have an earthy, mushroom dish; and want to bring out that essence, pick an earthy wine like a Red Burgundy. It is no mistake that a rich, buttery California Chardonnay has a natural affinity for lobster; which is also rich and buttery.

One of the easiest ways to guarantee mirroring in a pairing is to use the wine you are serving as an ingredient in the food as well. Be sure to buy enough for the number of guests tasting, and plan to provide eight 3-oz servings or six 4-oz servings per bottle.
  • Never Save the Best for Last. Serve your best stuff first: Hosting a business party or dinner? According to renowned business author, Peter Drucker: "More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject". Most people will arrive coming from work, and perhaps after running around at the office all day. They're likely to be famished. People are so hungry when they first arrive that downing something small but unique makes a hugely positive impression. The French, who are masters of entertaining and the culinary arts, know this. So they give diners what is arguably the best thing they'll have all night at the beginning of the evening. It then sets the tone for the entire meal to come. You should do the same thing. So instead of offering them mixed nuts, pretzels, raw vegetables, and potato chips like everybody else does, serve them small sampler portions of foods like Scottish smoked salmon, foie gras, or, perhaps my favorite appetizer of all, jamón ibérico de bellota.
  • Your New Best Friend: The local sommelier or wine merchant: Really want to WOW your guests with a one-of-a-kind experience? THEME your event by enlisting the help of a local sommelier or wine merchant. You don't want to work with a liquor store or bottle shop owner. Talk to owners of local gourmet food shops or to the people who run the culinary arts programs in your community to point you in the right direction. Once you find a good resource, work with them to choose wines based on a theme that pairs well with food such as these theme ideas: The Bs of Italy: Barola, Barbera & Barbaresco, Dry German Food Wines, The Various Wine Regions of Spain…and more. I guarantee, this will keep your guests raving about your event long after the last glass is gone. 
  • Double Down: Hosting a large dinner party? Serve two wines simultaneously to be paired together with the first course. Why? It's not just educational it helps people mingle, breaks the ice, and injects a whole new social dimension into the evening that your guests can take back and then share with their friends and family. Examples: serve a Cabernet from France and a Cabernet from California so your guests can make observations on how geography influences style and taste of winemaking. Or order the same wine from two different vintages to demonstrate the significance of New World Versus Old World Comparisons. This is always a crowd pleaser! 
  • Warm Your Whites, Chill Your Reds: Yes, I know this runs counter to most people's thinking, but you want to guard against over-chilling your white wines and serving your red wines too warm. White wines are often served too cold, especially in the United States. However, a white wine's subtle aromatics (floral and fruity notes) are anesthetized at refrigerator temperatures. So take your white wines out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you want to serve them. Conversely, red wines often are not served chilled enough. Their "finish” can thus be a bit harsh, even caustic to the taste, if served at room temperature. To remove this edge, chill your red wines for about 20 minutes before you want to serve them to guests. This will give them the proper balance and fruit intensity when served. To help you maintain the proper temperatures of your wines, you may want to invest in a digital wine thermometer. The proper temperature for whites is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and for reds, about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
My verdict? 
"Power Entertaining" is worth every penny of its $21.95 cover price.  The book contains an absolute wealth of knowledge for anyone who wants to learn more about wine, throw an awesome party, or take their entertainment game to the next level.

Even better, it contains enough wine pairings to keep you busy for the next... oh, forty years or so.


Monday, February 4, 2013

Think Like a Somm: My Conversation with Eddie Osterland

Pin It  I don't normally cross-post the material I write for  But, this past week I had the rare opportunity to have a conversation with Eddie Osterland, the United States' first Master Sommelier. He was in town for a speaking engagement and offered to sit down and chat with me about ways average people can take their home and restaurant entertaining to the next level.

Not only is Eddie just an all-around nice guy. And honestly, I learned a ton.

Turns out you don't have to know everything about wine to surprise your guests with impressive food & wine pairings. And you don't need to be rich to throw a great party (though spending a few extra dollars helps). You just have to learn how to think more like a sommelier.

Wine geeks might recognize the name Eddie Osterland. He was, after all, the first American to attain the Master Sommelier title in 1973, and is now one of fewer than 200 in the country.

And just to give you a sense of how big of a deal that is, less than 3% of test-takers pass the exam, and there are less than nine sommeliers worldwide who passed the Master's Exam on the very first try.

So, Osterland is pretty special. The fact is, if he were a wine, he'd be a grand vintage, fully mature but with plenty to offer for years to come. These days you'll most often find him on the speaking circuit sharing his knowledge about wine and entertaining with both new and seasoned executives.

In fact, his new book, "Power Entertaining," is a collection of his experiences and advice for building lasting relationships and using the art of wine and food to impress and attract friends and business associates.

I had the great honor of sitting down with him while he was in Milwaukee for a speaking engagement last week. We talked wine, relationships, and entertaining. And he gave me some great tips for creating memorable experiences, both at home and out in restaurants.
According to Osterland, creating a memorable experience has everything to do with "thinking like a somm."

Before I jump full swell into the details of our conversation, what exactly is a somm?

I like to think of the word "somm" as a term of endearment of sorts. The sommelier is typically a role found only in first-class restaurants where the price of a bottle of wine can easily dwarf any sum spent on food. Sommeliers are on the front line of customer service and profit generation. These talented folks not only know wines, but they know people. If they work in a restaurant, they know how to give even the pickiest customers the best possible service and keep them coming back for more.

So, now that that's out of the way, it's time to start thinking like a somm.

Osterland, who studied professional wine tasting for two years at the University of Bordeaux, says the first step to being able to pull off an impressive affair with wine is to calm down. It doesn't really matter how much you know about wine.

"Don't stress out," he says. "You don't need to know everything. Make friends. Bond with the sommelier and your area wine merchant. Find out who the top ones are in your city. Get to know them, and find someone you like. Trust them."

A little bit of education helps as well.

"Go to a sommelier and say 'Burgundy me,'" Osterland suggests. "Sample the great wines you've never had before, and let it change your perspective."

Build a relationship with the sommelier. If you're planning an event, meet them for a conversation a few weeks ahead of time. Have a conversation over drinks at the bar. Ask them what they have that's not included on the wine list.

Once you've got the somm on your side, you can start thinking about how to orchestrate a dinner that friends and business associates won't soon forget. Osterland emphasizes that, when you're pairing wines with foods, whether it's at a restaurant or at home, keep in mind that both taste best when you're hungry.

"No matter how much you like that lobster or scallop dinner, it's going to taste at least 8% better if you're hungry. Once that first item goes out, you have fifteen to thirty minutes to rock 'n roll. So, start with what really shines."

Osterland says it's a bit like the concept of "eat dessert first," and he follows up with the example of the legendary white, Château d'Yquem. Ranking among the top five white vineyards of France, Yquem is a highly regarded wine with ancient origins. He says it's unconventional, since it's typically seen as a dessert wine, but he suggests serving it first.

And when you're playing to impress, don't hesitate to spend a little bit more on those first sips of wine.  [Read the rest at, including great tips for different wines to serve to surpise your guests]